It’s taken for granted that companies must operate as hierarchical power structures, where managers use their authority to control those below them. But some ground-breaking studies in neurology, psychology and human behaviour are challenging the notion of the efficacy of positional power in the workplace.
In his book Mindful Management: The Neuroscience of Trust and Effective Workplace Leadership, author Dalton A. Kehoe describes the mind as being of two parts: the conscious mind, the “Rider”; and the subconscious mind, the “Elephant”. The Elephant mind is constantly scanning the environment for threats and other cues and sends non-verbal prompts to the Rider who uses this information to act in the world.
Traditional thinking presumes that workers need to be given orders, have rules enforced, and be motivated by nothing other than a paycheque. For the Elephant, displays of authority are interpreted as low-level threats of dominance, and the Rider may respond with obedience but also with resistance and disengagement.
The Elephant is reassured by signals of fairness, autonomy, friendliness and emotional connection, and subsequently can allow the Rider to let down his guard.
Kehoe gives examples of successful and progressive companies where managers operate more as coordinators than controllers. When interacting with workers, they deliberately use language that engenders emotional connection and trust. They employ inclusive, non-hierarchical and transparent methods of decision-making and employee evaluation.
Many business owners and managers may be skeptical of this approach, but they cannot deny the results. These companies have seen rising rates of productivity, innovation and worker satisfaction. When managers approach their roles as more supportive than directive, it can create a more productive workplace where employees are motivated and engaged.
This material has been drawn in part from Schulich ExecEd’s upcoming program Mindful Management: the Neuroscience of Leadership taught by Professor Dalton Kehoe (starting Dec. 10, 2018). The program is designed to help managers drive staff performance levels to new heights using advancements in neuroscience to build connection and trust.